Rick Maguire on All Fiction, new EP Hot Air Balloon, and the future of Pile

Pile frontman and chief songwriter Rick Maguire joins Headliner for a chat about the band’s new EP Hot Air Balloon, how 2023 album All Fiction stretched him like never before, and what the future holds for the Boston band.

You can listen to this interview here or read on below.

Almost a year to the day on from Headliner’s last conversation with Rick Maguire, in which we spoke at length about Pile’s expansive and experimental eighth album All Fiction, we join him via his home in Boston, Massachusetts. This time around, our conversation revolves largely around the band’s new EP Hot Air Balloon.

If All Fiction showcased Pile at their most ambitious, taking the most brutal and abrasive elements of their distinct brand of alternative rock and melding with synth-laden soundscapes and textures, then Hot Air Balloondemonstrates further still Maguire’s desire to render his band an even more enigmatic force than it already is.

The five-song EP is a collection of tracks written and recorded around the same time as the 10 songs that make up All Fiction that would perhaps have disrupted the flow achieved on that record. As Maguire explains during our conversation, it wasn’t a case of these songs merely being scraps that didn’t make the grade. A case in point being it’s lead single Scaling Walls, which arguably could have been the lead single on All Fictionhad it been included.

The shift in the band’s sound over these latest releases has also been incorporated into the Pile’s live incarnation. Typically comprised of two guitars, bass, and drums, a number of shows embarked upon over the past year featured just three band members on stage tasked with triggering all manner of loops and synths.

Here, Maguire discusses how All Fiction and Hot Air Balloon represented his biggest artistic challenges to date, what the future holds for the band, and more…

It’s been a year since the release of All Fiction. How has the tour for the album been – the last time we spoke you said you anticipated it would be a different type of live show, as there were more sonic textures, synths etc?

I think we did them justice. We did them justice with just he three of us, which was a lot to consider Basically, between the three of us, I had some synths, samplers, a drum pad trigger, and with those we were able to cover a lot. And I had my foot pedal to add things like extra bass notes, so we did it pretty well. But it I would say that with the three of us doing it there was an element of what the band had been that we lost a little bit. We were able to interpret the album well, but we didn’t have the same kind of bombast that we’ve had touring previous records.

It would be hard to achieve that with just three of us anyway with the older material, but the way this album sounds took us even further away from that. We were able to achieve what we hoped to, but it was great to be able to bring Matt [Becker, guitarist] back in for this last tour to add that bombast and have those high energy moments, but also those quietly intense moments, and toggle between the two. I thought that made for a more interesting set.

You have also been performing some solo shows. How have they been?

In 2022 I went on a solo tour and that was me using a MIDI controller foot pedal to control synthesizers and I’d play electric guitar at the same time. It used to be I’d just bring a guitar, but this opened it up to more loops and synth pads and sub bass, and that was a lot of fun. It was interesting trying the songs in that way. This time, the logistics were such that I could only bring a guitar, so I had to arrange all the new material I was going to play for a single guitar.

I’ll probably do some really stripped back versions of some of the material on this tour. Also, with the new material the initial intent was for the songs to be written in a way that was almost like folk songs where the chords and the melody is what the song is. So I can play them with a solo guitar, piano, or with a band, or I could use the studio in a way to make it almost impossible to play them live. Writing with that flexibility in mind allows me to try some different things out. A song like Poisons, I could play that just on acoustic guitar or piano, but it’s come to be something else for me – it’s just a loud rock song. That whole song I initially played on piano in a clunky Tom Waits kind of way.

I want to enjoy the process rather than it be this difficult thing I need to endure. Rick Maguire

Are there any artists you particularly admire when it comes to reinterpreting their material?

There are two in particular, and they are Nick Cave and Neil Young. Seeing artists like that who I have admired for so long do that almost makes me feel like I have permission to do that. Like, Eric Clapton doing Laylaacoustic does not interest me, I have no interest in his music. But when I see Neil Young do it, I’m like OK, I want to try that too.

Tell us about the new EP Hot Air Balloon. How did that come together?

When we were preparing to go into the studio for what became All Fiction I wanted to have 30 songs and I ended up having about 20 and then when it came down to it we were prepared to track 15. So we tracked all 15 and it became clear that we didn’t want to do a double album; I just wanted a 44-minute long record, so with that we knew we’d have some leftovers. And I know the line of thinking is that we want the best of the best and the others can be used as B-sides or whatever, but I didn’t really view it that way.

Some of the songs that ended up on the EP seemed to operate as standalone songs. You think of a song like Link Arms on All Fiction that starts with this drone chord and this weird melody, and it feels like an album track; it occupies a space on that album. There were a handful of songs that just felt like they needed to be on the album to represent something.

Some of the songs on All Fiction on their own may not be as strong on first listen, but they are intrinsic to the record. So the five left over we felt had some flexibility as to whether they would be for an EP or individual singles released six months apart. We thought that we had released the album, did the tour, then had another new tour planned, so why not release some more music now. It just made sense. I’m happy with the material and would like at some point to do a physical release of it.

This EP really showcases the different Pile dynamics to the fullest – is that still something you are thinking of exploring further with the next new music you make? Or will it be a case of starting from clean slate next time?

This batch of material was a long time coming, so to know it is something we are able to execute, I think it will be incorporated as one of the many things that are available to us next time. Prior to this record we had a sound that came from the limited resources we possessed. It was guitar, bass drums, we could do loud and quiet, and we were that kind of rock band. And being able to explore this and know we can try that out, means we can jam and improvise on synths, which wasn’t a thing for us before.

It feels like that door is open now, but I will say that the last batch of material was me really stretching myself. I knew what I wanted to do both in terms of composition and production so I was really pushing myself and I’m not so sure that this time around [pauses]… everything is a reaction to the last thing. So because of how much I challenged myself I’m looking to reconnect with just enjoying doing this, so writing songs I just want to write rather than making some kind of statement. I think it will be a combination of the way things have been and the doors of what’s recently been opened, as well as exploring new things in a fun and adventurous way. I just want to enjoy the process rather than it be this difficult thing that I need to endure.

Tell us about the lead single from the EP Scaling Walls. That felt like it could be a lead single from an album in its own right.

The song speaks to how long the process was of getting all these songs together. It was around 2017 and I was having some writers block, and it basically jusy broke and I wrote a bunch of songs and that was one of them. I had some MIDI synth stuff on it and it has taken a number of iterations, but I always liked those chords. It was in a waltz for a while, but it came together when I was writing the All Fiction material.

The video I did with Joshua Echevarria and he did the Loops video as well. He’s just great. We worked on Loops together which was great, and later on he was asking if I knew of anyone who might want to work with, and I said that we had some new material, so we worked together again. With Loops I had a vision of what I wanted to do, but Scaling Walls was all Josh. We did it on a tight budget, we hung out and he bandied around these ideas and he just pulled it all together.

I really want to get into scoring. I love the synergy between music and visuals. I’ve been fortunate throughout my career with the people I’ve worked with making music videos. I really like that process.

What next?

The band doesn’t have any plans to tour in 2024 because we’ll be working on a record, but I might do some more solo shows. We will track a new album this year, but we won’t be releasing anything in 2024.

PHOTOS: Adam Parshall